I said this recently in an interview and I frequently have parents tell me that it's the only place they can really go to ask questions. I am glad that enough parents know about it that they feel comfortable to come here and raise issues. (Some also e-mail Charlie and me and that's fine as well.)
One topic that came up in the Eric Lui interview was about how parents can be involved (and how deeply) in their children's education. Eric pointed out that many parents don't want to speak out.
I've said this before - my belief is most parents just want a good school that they have confidence in the staff and where they feel welcome (either as a volunteer or a parent who visits occasionally). I don't think most parents want to be activists. I think most parents want to be advocates for their child's education.
But a side topic after that interview was the discussion that Eric and I had about public discourse about public education in Seattle (and Washington State). How do we have this discussion without lines being drawn at the start? How do we find common ground? What should we ALL be doing?
I told Eric of my attempts to reach out to those who I have found disagreement with (and who are the most visible and powerful people) but that it hasn't worked. I mentioned in a Crosscut article that I felt like it would take someone both powerful and somewhat neutral to get people to the table. (I had mentioned Bill Gates, Sr. I don't know Mr. Gates and I don't even know his stand on public education but he has shown himself to be his own person. I liked when he said, in an interview, "I was Bill Gates before he (his son) was Bill Gates." He could bring people to the table.)
So I'll try to answer some of my own questions but I would appreciate input from you.
1) How to have a discussion? I believe works better one-on-one or in smaller groups. These summits or meetings of masses of people representing various groups doesn't seem to work well. Some statement gets wordsmithed and there's a lot of blah, blah on equity and funding but not much action.
Speaking of discussion, what is troubling is how some groups act like they want discourse but if you actively disagree with them, you have a problem.
This happens at LEV and at the Washington Policy Center. They put up articles, invite input and then, won't print what is submitted.
I absolutely understand having a policy on what the public writes but I know for a fact that both those groups just don't like being disagreed with and will not allow active disagreement.
2) Common ground. So what do we all agree on? I will tentatively state that I believe that nearly everyone agrees that, based on what we know to be true from statistics, we have underfunded our K-12 schools in Washington State.
The corollary to that however is WHAT have we been spending the money on. Are we spending it in the right proportions? What should change?
If you read the comments after any public education article at the Times, the WEA takes nearly all the money and drives all the discussion of where it goes. I find that baffling.
I will go out on a limb here for more transparency in our district budgets. Don't just show us a pie chart with broad topics -let us see, in detail, where the money goes.
As well, I believe that two areas that most will agree on are class size and arts.
Over my decade+ of experience, this has never changed. (What is interesting is that charter schools DO tend to have smaller class sizes but also tend to NOT have any kind of real arts or arts integration in their curriculum. Indeed Rocketship, a highly-touted charter group, has little to no arts.)
And yet, many of us worked very hard to pass I-728 and did we see smaller class sizes? No. Where the money went is mostly a mystery but I sometimes think that the hard work isn't just passing a good idea but making sure it is implemented.
3) What should we be doing?
Job #1 right now is to write your elected reps in the Legislature and hold their feet to the fire. Here's a link to find their e-mails and phone numbers. Honestly, call or write them every single week until we see progress on enacting McCleary.
And I would gently suggest that you tell them that you would NOT accept this being done without some kind of new revenue. Because folks, it would be a difficult and bitter pill to get more money for public education off the backs of people who are poor or need health care. And that's how the Republicans are thinking this will get done.
Job#2 is thinking about how we advocate. It IS far better to advocate in as a group because yes, there is power in numbers. But what group?
LEV? Let me ask you a question - does anyone belong to LEV? Of course, not. You can join their mailing list but they are not a group you join.
Interestingly, they have an "activist training" coming up (and one topic is "learning from the rest of the nation; how to do charters right" - it might be worth the price of admission just to hear what they say about that).
Also, they have another workshop on "leveraging our parent power in the collective bargaining process." Here's my take on this - parents don't have a right to be at the bargaining process table.
Surprised? Don't be. Parents absolutely have a right to give imput - to both the WEA and the district - about what matters to parents about teachers and teaching. In fact, it is vital to give that imput because if both sides know what matters to parents, they will have common ground.
But this push - from LEV and now the so-called Our Schools coalition - that parents somehow have the right to be at the table? Nope. It's a labor/management issue and parents are not labor or management.
CPPS (Community and Parents for Public Schools) - they are a great organization (and have done the best outreach to immigrant communities that I have ever seen) but they are maybe a bit too quiet to be effective. CPPS is also having a great Parent Leadership 101 workshop and that's the one that I would attend if I wanted to learn more about parent advocacy.
Parents Across America - new, energetic but being new makes them harder to register on the radar. Get to know them and see what you think.
Stand for Children? Not unless you want to be told what to do and think as a public school parent.
I end with this portion of an article at LEV about being an education activist:
I’m no expert on the facts, figures and policies that govern our state. However, I’m an expert on my own experiences in the public school system.
I also know there are thousands of people who feel like me in Washington. We have stories. We have experiences. We are experts.
Actually, I would not consider that being an "expert." This is very precisely what is wrong in trying to get anything done in public education.
Did you go to public school? Check. Now have a child in public school? Check. Therefore, you're an expert, right? No.
Each person's experience with public education counts for something but to believe that your experience somehow can make you an expert or activist is misguided. But advocate? Absolutely. I have always said that no one in the district knows a school better than its parents and staff. So be an "expert" at your child's school.
To be an activist means stepping out that box and yes, educating yourself on the rest of the district, on Special Ed or state funding (whatever your interest is). Then you get to call yourself an activist.
Legislators and other elected officials need to know that you know what your are talking about because otherwise they will believe you are sitting in their office to vent, not advocate.
Consider in this new year to find the issue that most matters to you - whether in your own school or the district or the state - and make that your mission to make a difference. Your advocacy is a way to inspire others.